Last week’s post “6 Tips for Finding New Freelance Writing Markets” received a comment worth mentioning. Though I was brief in my roundup, the commenter Robert Earle Howells offered some good reminders:
These are all ways to troll, and they’re good. You can find great titles and get inspired. But remember, that doesn’t mean you’re ready to pitch them. One issue of a magazine, or even writer guidelines (which are often outdated), or a WM listing (ditto), can’t prepare you for a decent query. You need to look at the archives. You need to find the name and e-mail address of the exact editor to pitch. It’s also smart to check out the publication’s media kit for demographic info and other clues.
Robert is exactly right. Sending a blind query isn’t the best approach, there are steps to take before firing off your pitch. If you’re going query a market, be sure to take the time to do it right. For example, the last thing you want is to pitch an article idea only to learn they ran with a similar article two months ago.
Here’s a “before you query” check list to consider. Taking these steps before submitting a query can better your chances of success.
Read Back Issues
Visit the library and catch up on as many back issues as possible. There are several reasons for this: browsing the masthead will provide information regarding the editors and staff. By comparing these names to the articles inside, you can determine how many articles are written by staff writers vs. freelance writers. Moreover, familiarizing yourself with past issues will allow you see the market’s voice, get a feel for the readership and note what types of articles they generally publish. It’ll also give you an idea of what types of articles have been published in the past year or so, allowing you to submit a fresh idea.
Find Current Contact Information
Robert makes a very good point, your five year old edition of the Writer’s Market is sure to have outdated material, ditto for a past issue’s masthead. Read current editions to learn names and contact details, call the main office if necessary. Websites might also contain the current contact details. Don’t pitch a query until you’re sure you have the right person and the right department.
Research the Market’s Audience
Demographics are important. There are several ways to learn about a market’s readership. Contact the sales or marketing office for a media kit. Reading several issues cover to cover, especially the letters from readers, will give you a good idea about the age, gender and interests of the market’s reader base. Look online, read the Q&A’s, browse the forums and read demographic information provided to advertisers. Now you can tailor your pitch to meet the market’s needs.
Query or Manuscript?
Some markets prefer you pitch a completed manuscript, while others only wish to receive a query. Browse the Writer’s Market, online submission guidelines, or a current masthead to learn each particular market’s preference.
Critique Your Pitch
If you’re new to pitching markets, have a few experienced eyes critique your query before you drop it in the mailbox. Seasoned vets will help you punch up your pitch and recommend whether or not to add or omit certain details. After a little practice you’ll be able to fly solo, but it can never hurt to receive constructive criticism at first.
What are some of things you do before querying a market?